In 1982, while working at The University of Texas System Cancer Center, Allison made a breakthrough discovery - identifying the T-cell antigen receptor, which allows T cells to recognize an unusual protein on the surface of another cell.
Allison, 70, "realised the potential of releasing the brake and thereby unleashing our immune cells to attack tumours", the Nobel jury said during Monday's prize announcement in Stockholm.
The citation for this year's Nobel Prize in Medicine says the two honorees developed therapies for treating cancer. Honjo discovered the protein on the surface of T cells in 1992 and set about trying to figure out its function. Research by Allison at the University of Texas in the United States and Honjo at Japan's Kyoto University explored how the body's immune system can be harnessed to attack cancer cells by releasing the brakes on immune cells.
Thanks to Allison's doggedness, anti-CTLA-4 therapy is now an accepted therapy for cancer and it opened the floodgates for a slew of new immunotherapies, Krummel said.
"Because this approach targets immune cells rather than specific tumors, it holds great promise to thwart diverse cancers", the Lasker Foundation wrote when it awarded Allison its 2015 Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award.
Dr Allison looked at a protein that acts as a brake on the immune system. Follow-up studies show 20 percent of those treated live for at least three years with many living for 10 years and beyond, unprecedented results, according to the cancer center.
"I don't know if I could have accomplished this work anywhere else than Berkeley", Allison said.
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Allison of MD Anderson Cancer Center at The University of Texas in this picture obtained from MD Anderson Cancer Center at The University of Texas on October 1, 2018 (R) and Kyoto University Professor Tasuku Honjo in Kyoto, Japan in this photo taken by Kyodo September 17, 2018.
"When we showed (Professor Ralph) Reisfeld a paper we wrote, he actually said, 'I don't want my name on it".
Although the concept of using the immune system against cancer arose in the 19th century, initial treatments based on the approach were only modestly effective. The field hums with stories of lives extended: "the woman with a grapefruit-size tumor in her lung from melanoma, alive and healthy 13 years later; the 6-year-old near death from leukemia, now in third grade and in remission; the man with metastatic kidney cancer whose disease continued fading away even after treatment stopped".
Dr. Otis W. Brawley, a close friend of Allison's, said the Nobel committee usually waits about ten years to make sure a scientific discovery "sticks as being really important".
"I would like to keep on doing my research.so that this immune treatment could save more cancer patients", he said. "We need more basic science research to do that".
The Nobel Prize in Physics is to be announced Tuesday, followed by chemistry.
Arnault, 72, is married to a member of the Swedish Academy which selects the Nobel Literature Prize victor, and his cultural club Forum received generous funding from the Academy.